When Ian Balina, an experienced Web designer, and Asad Mahmood, a middle school spelling bee champion who speaks four languages, met on the first day of their freshmen engineering class, they had no idea their combined interests would lead them to technological innovation.
This semester the two juniors created Leximo, an online dictionary that they hope will eventually feature user-generated definitions of words from every language.
“What Wikipedia did to Britannica, I guess we’re trying to do to Webster,” Balina said.
With the tagline “The World’s First Social Dictionary,” Leximo reflects its creators wish to bring together and engage people from all over the world on their site.
“Dictionaries like Webster are kind of like old in a way, so we’re trying to bring user interaction into a dictionary,” Balina said. “I guess the main point is that our site is going to be global.”
Leximo users will contribute to the dictionary by adding words in any language. Even languages that use non-English characters will be input using the English alphabet. Users will rank the different definitions for each word, so when someone looks up a word they will be able to see the most popular definition.
Both Balina and Mahmood have global roots. Balina was born in Uganda, and Mahmood, whose parents are from India, communicates on the Internet with friends in India to practice his language skills. Mahmood is also the recipient of a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship.
Prior to their current endeavor, the Leximo partners have worked on several school projects together.
“We’re a great team,” Balina said.
“Super team,” Mahmood added.
Mahmood and Balina hope to open the site to more people in phases before going public possibly within the next two weeks. At that point, they would invite the whole school to test it out, Ballina said.
On Twitter last week, Leximo had 393 “followers” – users who subscribe to the updates Balina posts.
“People love the idea,” Balina said of the response thus far.
Mahmood and Balina said they are still tweaking the site and carefully considering all the feedback they receive.
Balina said friends have warned him about the dangers of having the site open for public input.
“There’s got to be a way to sort of censor certain words out, while at the same time keeping user interaction,” Mahmood said.
Balina noted that the system of voting for correct definitions will help filter out the more obscene words.
“That way the words that are obscene and not appropriate just stay at the bottom and the words that are appropriate will be at the top,” he said.
Leximo currently boasts about 100,000 definitions, all taken from public, open source dictionaries. In the future, the founders hope Leximo will grow to the point that they can make it their occupation.
“Five years from now, we want the site to be big, I guess,” Balina said.
“And basically bring people together, Mahmood added. “The ultimate dictionary monopoly.”